Background: Hydroxyurea is now the standard of care for children with sickle cell anemia (SCA). Results from the BABY HUG study and recommendations from the 2014 NHLBI Guidelines have led to early initiation (increasingly before 1 year of age) of hydroxyurea for many patients. Given the known variability in hydroxyurea pharmacokinetics (PK), treatment response (HbF%), and maximum tolerated dose (MTD), we hypothesized that individualized dosing would provide the optimal treatment approach.

Methods: The Therapeutic Response Evaluation and Adherence Trial (TREAT, NCT02286154) is a prospective study of a personalized, PK-guided dosing model of hydroxyurea for children with SCA. Using population PK model-based Bayesian estimation, each participant's PK data are used to generate an individualized starting hydroxyurea dose that targets an area under the curve associated with actual MTD. Clinical follow-up and subsequent dose adjustments target MTD, usually defined by ANC<3.0x109/L. We analyzed clinical and laboratory data for TREAT participants who started hydroxyurea before 2 years of age, to allow for comparison to published results from BABY HUG, which included a similar young cohort but with conservative weight-based dosing of 20 mg/kg/day. TREAT participants had ongoing clinical and research evaluations of organ function, including transcranial doppler (TCD) studies, RBC pit counts, and cystatin C measurements.

Results:The analysis of children starting hydroxyurea before 2 years of age included 33 participants (of 47 total TREAT enrollments), who contributed a total of 59.5 patient-years of hydroxyurea therapy. The mean age (±SD) at hydroxyurea initiation was 1.0±0.4 years of age. The average PK-guided, individualized starting dose was 27.8±5.3 mg/kg/day, higher than conventional and BABY HUG initial dosing (20 mg/kg/day). For children who have completed 12 months of therapy (n=24), effects in hematologic laboratory data are remarkable with average 35.9±8.9% HbF and hemoglobin concentration of 10.2±1.1 g/dL after 12 months of therapy (compared to 29.3±8.8% and 9.2±1.3 g/dL at baseline). The majority (70%) of these participants have HbF>30% and almost half achieved HbF>40% after 12 months of hydroxyurea. This hematological response is more robust than what was observed in BABY HUG (HbF=22.4%, Hb=9.1 g/dL after two years of therapy, Wang WC et al. Lancet 2011). In the TREAT cohort, there were no episodes of dactylitis, acute splenic sequestration, or stroke. There were 111 emergency room or sick outpatient clinic visits for this young cohort; 107 ED/clinic visits (without subsequent hospitalization) were for fever, URI symptoms, GI illness, or other non-specific complaints unrelated to SCA, while only 4 (3.6%) visits were for pain. There were 38 hospitalizations in 17 participants, mostly for routine evaluation of fever (66%), but no positive blood cultures and no admissions for febrile neutropenia. The average length of hospitalization was 2.8±2.4 days with 81% of participants discharged within 72 hours of admission. There were 3 episodes of acute chest syndrome in 2 patients, two of whom required PRBC transfusion. Including all types of visits, there were only 6 pain events, equivalent to 10.1 pain events per 100 patient-years, which is much lower than the published 94 events per 100 patient-years in the hydroxyurea treatment arm of BABY HUG (Thornburg CD et al. Blood 2012). There were 37 TCD exams performed in 16 participants, all normal except for one patient with conditional velocities that normalized with hydroxyurea. There were no significant differences from baseline to month 12 in either RBC pit counts or cystatin C values.

Conclusions: Hydroxyurea initiation at an early age using PK-guided dosing provides significant clinical benefits for young children with sickle cell anemia. These TREAT study data suggest that initiating hydroxyurea around one year of life using a personalized dosing strategy can provide better clinical and laboratory benefits than starting at the conventional 20 mg/kg/day weight-based dose. Very high HbF levels are observed at modest and well-tolerated doses of hydroxyurea, perhaps because treatment was initiated before the process of HbF inactivation is complete. Continued long-term follow-up of these patients will determine whether these will be sustained and able to prevent both short- and long-term complications of SCA.


Malik:CSL Behring: Patents & Royalties. Quinn:Silver Lake Research Corporation: Research Funding; Global Blood Therapeutics: Research Funding; Amgen: Research Funding. Ware:Biomedomics: Research Funding; Nova Laboratories: Consultancy; Bristol Myers Squibb: Research Funding; Addmedica: Research Funding; Global Blood Therapeutics: Other: advisory board; Agios: Other: advisory board; Novartis: Membership on an entity's Board of Directors or advisory committees.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.

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